There’s a back story in why we actually celebrate Thanksgiving that’s also why it’s more meaningful than just the day before Black Friday. We share a few of these back stories from Kru Snake Blocker of the Lipan Apache Tribe in what is today Texas on the premise that, if not now, then just chow down and shop till you drop.
The Impatient Snake
The One Creator made all that is in the Heavens. Next, He created the world we live in. He then began creating the things that roam the earth and sky. He took some clay from Turtle Island’s back and shaped it into a magnificent form. He created a horse and call out to Downward Wind to breathe life into it. Then the horse went off to explore the new world. The Creator took more clay and shaped it into a bear, then took some darker clay and gave it a beautiful fur coat. Downward Wind came to breathe life into the form, and the bear wandered off. The Creator did the same for the wolf, the fox, the eagle, and so on. He began to form the snake and gave it wonderful colors. The Creator then turned to take some more clay and give it large wings and legs, but when He turned back to place the wings and legs on its body, the snake was no longer there. The snake had quickly crawled backwards and was exploring the Underworld. The Creator was displeased with the snake and said, “You are impatient and you did not wait for your wings and legs. Because you are impatient, you will not receive your wings or legs and you must forever roam this world on your belly. You will roam between the Underworld and Turtle Island and never explore the sky above or be able to walk with your legs.” Impatient Snake accepted its fate and forever crawled on its belly. When an Apache baby crawls on its belly, some Apaches call their young ones the Impatient Snake.
The Split Tongue
Long ago, after the Apaches and creatures came above ground to Turtle Island from Underworld, there was peace for a time and a half of time. The Apaches were multiplying and becoming stronger and more skilled in hunting each season. Dragon, who ruled the land creatures, believed that soon the Apaches would become stronger than his creatures and would take over his rule over them. Dragon was a large and powerful reptile. He had 3-7 layers of scales around its body and was the most feared of all creatures. At that time, the Apaches and the creatures of the land and air all spoke the same language and could understand each other. Dragon feared that if there was a war between him and the Apaches, some of the creatures would side with the Apaches in battle. Dragon gathered all the land creatures together in the Valley of the Red Blood and commanded them to never speak the language of the Apaches again. When the command was made, the snakes were in Underworld, and didn’t hear the command from Dragon. The snakes would always go back and forth from Turtle Island and Underworld. The night came when there was a great battle between Dragon and the Apaches. The snakes came up from Underworld when they heard the ground shake from the battle. They spoke to the Apaches who asked for their assistance. The snakes sided with the Apaches in battle, but the battle was lost and many thousands of Apaches were slaughtered. The snakes were all brought to Dragon, after the battle. Dragon said, “Why did you disobey my command to never speak to the Apaches? Why did you side with the Apaches?” The snakes said, “We never heard your command. We were in Underworld, until we heard the shaking of Turtle Island. The Apaches asked us to help and we have no fight with the Apaches.” Dragon said, “You will never speak to the Apaches again! You will never speak any language again!” Dragon took his claws and split the tongues of all the snakes. After that, the snakes could no longer speak; they could only make the hissing sound and their tongue would never be straight again.
Apache Boy Kills Dragon
Painted Woman was considered the first mother of the Apache people. She was the mother of many children but, after a time, Dragon was afraid that they would multiple too much and become greater in power and strength than he. Dragon would smell the scent of an infant, find him or her, and eat the baby. After the loss of many infants, Painted Woman gave birth again, but this time, she hid him deep in a cave and covered the entrance. Dragon came around and smelled the scent of the infant, but he could not find him. Dragon came back, time and time again, looking for the infant but couldn’t find him. Dragon approached Painted Woman and said, “Give me your infant, for I smell him and I know he is around!” Painted Woman said, “You have taken all my children. It’s the old smell from the many you have taken before.” Dragon left, but kept lurking around to try and find the boy. Painted Woman was training the boy in the cave on all the battle tactics he would need to hunt and survive once he left the cave.
Many seasons passed. The boy was now too big to hide in the cave. He told his mother that he was ready for adventures outside the cave. Painted Woman warned him to be very careful, because Dragon comes around often. The boy would hide in trees and rocks, while he hunted, and only came back to the cave to visit his mother. One day, Dragon came around and spotted the boy while the boy was out hunting. Dragon said, “I knew I would find you, for I have smelled your scent for many seasons. You will die today boy!” The Apache boy said, “Not today, for it is not a good day to die for me, but I am hunting, and you will taste better than deer meat.” Dragon laughed and charged towards the boy. The boy pulled back on his bow and released an arrow. The arrow went straight and true to Dragon’s heart area, but only one scale fell from his protected body. Dragon laughed again and continued to charge. The boy pulled back on his bow again and released a second arrow. The arrow hit the heart area, but only one scale fell down from its thick coat. The boy climbed a tree and shot at Dragon a third time, but this time, after another scale fell off, he could see the final layer of skin covering Dragon’s heart. As Dragon was climbing the tree, the boy shot his fourth arrow, which pierced the skin and went into Dragon’s heart. Dragon fell down from the tree and died on the ground below. The boy brought Dragon to his mother and she rejoiced over the great news. Painted Woman danced four cycles around Dragon and then they thanked the One Creator for the victory.
The Marked Apache and the Rattlesnake
The Apaches teach their young to respect all life. The Apache elders say “Respect all that our One Creator has made. Respect all people. Respect the trees, the rivers, the rocks, all land creatures, and all sky creatures.” Most the Apaches follow this command, but there was a young Apache boy who would not respect nature, and he would hunt without blessings or giving thanks to the One Creator. The boy would kill wild life without using all the parts of the animals. He would only take the best meat and leave the carcass on the ground. The Apaches would often reprimand the boy, but he would continue to disrespect his elders and disobey their commands.
One day, Old Rattlesnake came near the Apache camp. The Apache elders said, “Leave the snake alone, for it is merely passing by.” The Apache boy ignored the elders and kicked Old Rattlesnake with a powerful kick. Old Rattlesnake struck at the boy, but was too late, as it had flown back in the air from the kick and landed in the bushes. Young Rattlesnake saw what had happened and came closer to the scene. Old Rattlesnake began moving away, but the boy ran over and kicked it again, as hard as he could. Old Rattlesnake struck at the boy, but again was too late, as it became airborne from the kick and landed near a large rock. Young Rattlesnake crawled on the large rock to watch. Old Rattlesnake coiled up and began rattling at the boy, but the boy came near and kicked the snake once more. Old Rattlesnake struck at the boy, but being bruised, old, and tired was too slow. As the boy laughed, Young Rattlesnake sprang at the boy’s hip from the large rock. Young Rattlesnake sunk its fangs into the Apache boy’s hip at a forty-five degree angle and released all its poison into the boy. The boy screamed in pain and ran to Medicine Man. Young Rattlesnake was still attached to the boy’s hip and would not release its fangs. Medicine Man cut away Young Rattlesnake from the boy’s body, but could not release the fangs.
The boy became deathly ill, as the poison entered his body. The fangs stayed in the boy’s hip. Medicine Man tried every herb, song, and prayer but the boy was getting worse. Medicine Man told the elders, “You must take the boy to Great Medicine Man, who lives at the top of Green Mountain.” The elders took the boy with them and journeyed four days to Green Mountain. Great Medicine Man examined the boy and said, “The boy will die unless I remove all the poison from his body, which has now spread from head to feet.” Great Medicine Man took some sinew, and string from his bow, and used it to cut the boy in half, vertically down the middle. The boy was cut from his head to below the hip. The boy was split in half and the white poison from Young Rattlesnake gushed out of the boy. Great Medicine Man quickly sewed the boy back with horizontal patterns that ran up and down the boy’s body, from below the hip to the top of his skull. Great Medicine Man treated the boy with herbs, songs, and prayer for four months. The boy recovered and returned back to his tribal camp. He had learned his lesson and respected all creation from then on. The boy would never forget the lesson, for Young Rattlesnake’s fangs remained in the hip the rest of his life. His face and body was marked so badly that the tribe called the boy, Marked Down with Zigzags. The zigzag patterns of the boy are reflected in Apache pottery, clothes, blankets and battle tactics.
The Great Eagles
The Apache warriors have always honored the great eagles. The great eagles are known as the chief of the Sky Tribe. In pictures and stories, the Apaches regard them as an emblem and symbol of strength, courage, and leadership. The great eagles are the guardians of the Heavens and were created by the One Creator as a helper and teacher to the Apaches. The great eagles assisted the Apaches in many battles and wars against Dragon and his land creatures, after the Apaches came up from Underworld. The Apaches learned many hunting and battle tactics from the great eagles. They were inspired by the great eagles’ extraordinary vision; ability to soar to great heights; beautiful feathers, and powerful talons. In past times, the great eagles were much larger than today and were said to have nests the size of a large wickiups. Their wing spans were so large and powerful that they could lift up small deer. When a great eagle would drop a feather near an Apache, it was a special blessing and a sign that this person would be a great Apache warrior (male or female). If an Apache found a great eagle feather, it was prized, and could be used in trade; as gifts; or be kept to decorate their horses, head pieces, wickiups, or weapons. The most prized of feathers were large solid white feathers, which were rare. Another of the prized feathers was white with black tip. An Apache leader could honor a brave warrior by presenting him or her with a great eagle feather. This would be worn with pride and would always be worn in ceremonies. When a great eagle feather was attached to a warrior’s horse, war shield, hair, clothes, or weapons, they would be successful in battle.
As the great eagles pluck their defected feathers, so also can they fly in silence. For this reason, the Apache warriors cut their hair off or burn the ends of their long hair, after the death of a loved one. This is an act of reverential silence. As the great eagles plunge into icy waters to remove lice and other parasites, so too do Apache warriors jump into icy waters to purify themselves after a journey, battle, or illness to remove bad spirits and bad memories. As the great eagles sharpen their talons and beaks along the edges of rocks, so too do Apache warriors sharpen their weapons on stones. As the great eagles painfully pluck off all their old feathers and wait naked until the growth of their new coat, so too do Apache warriors go into sweat lodges naked and pour out their impurities through sweating. This is the Apaches’ method of renewing both body and spirit. As the great eagles point their talons down on their prey, so too do Apache warriors call a reverse or downward weapon grip: the Talon Grip.
One day in 2007, I was working at the Jicarilla Apache Reservation, which is several miles off the main road and far from town. There was a large precipice with a few large trees at the highest spot. My co-workers and I were working on a natural gas well site below this cliff. When we looked closer at the largest tree above, we saw a large white eagle. The entire body had white feathers from head to talon except a small row of brown feathers around its neck line. It watched us the entire time we worked below. I took a few photos, but they came out a bit fuzzy and I still have them in my photo album, as a reminder of that special day. I spoke with other Apaches in town and they have never seen the white eagle before or since. My spirit guide told me it was our One Creator telling me He watches over us.
Tumble Weed Comes to Turtle Island
When the Apaches, land creatures, and sky creatures came up from Underworld to Turtle Island, they went about and explored the North, South, East, and West. At that time, all lands were connected and there was no separation of oceans. They discovered new trees, plants, herbs, and flowers. But they missed their old diet of medicines and color dies. The Apaches went back to Underworld and gathered seeds from all the vegetation that formed their diet, medicine, and dies. They brought them up in bags and baskets to Turtle Island.
When they were finished gathering the seeds in Underworld, Tumble Weed spoke to the Apaches. He said “Take me up to Turtle Island for I am lonely down here in Underworld”. An Apache elder said “We have no need of you on Turtle Island, for there are many new plants, trees, and flowers that are much more pleasant to look at. You offer us no fruits, vegetables, or herbs from your branches or roots. Your branches are not strong enough for our bows or arrows. You offer no medicine. You offer no color dies. And you offer no sinew. We have no need for you on Turtle Island.”
Tumble Weed was very smart and asked, “How will you deliver all those seeds throughout Turtle Island?” The Apache elder said, “We will travel North, South, East, and West and spread the seeds.” Tumble Weed said “You will not be successful for the seeds must be spread out quickly, before the change of seasons, or they will die. You are slow on foot and few in number. You will never accomplish this in time for proper growth and, next harvest you will have little to show for such a large tasking.”
The Apache elder thought for several minutes in silence and then asked “Tumble Weed, you are wise in your speaking, but what would you recommend?” Tumble Weed said “Take me up to Turtle Island. I will spread your seeds to the North, South, East, and West.” The Apache elders asked “How will you do such a great task?” Tumble Weed said “I will gather many seeds at once. Then I will call on Cross Wind to send me North, South, East, and West. I will spread the seeds as I travel. The seeds will spread throughout every part of Turtle Island.”
The Apache elder agreed and they took Tumble Weed up to Turtle Island. Tumble Weed would roll his body forwards and backwards, spreading the seeds as he struck the ground in a Downward Wind direction or an Upward Wind direction across the land. The next season, the plants, trees, herbs, and flowers that the Apaches used for their diet, their medicine, and their dies were all on Turtle Island. It is said that you can dig deep enough and find the ancient plants and trees that were left behind and not brought up to Turtle Island. After a time, the Great Flood destroyed all of Underworld.